John Gapper

Reading the federal complaint against the prostitution ring in which Eliot Spitzer, the New York state governor, apparently became caught up is an insight into how even this sort of business is just that – a business.

The Emperors Club VIP was clearly at the top end of prostitution enterprises. It operated across borders – in Paris and London as well as in US cities – and it was very expensive. Clients had to pay between $1,000 and $5,500 per hour for its services.

Like other service businesses, it had a loyalty club for the most elite clients who paid even more than $5,500 per hour, known as the Icon Club. It allowed some clients to “buy out” their favourite prostitutes, permitting the men direct access to the women without going through the Emperors Club.

The 47-page complaint shows the Emperors Club also faced many operating challenges. The federal wiretaps of conversations show the organisers facing problems such as having too few prostitutes for the demand from clients in one city and having to hassle clients to pay bills. Read more

John Gapper


Of what does the above picture remind you? Read more

John Gapper

It was noticeable, watching the Oscars, that there were a lot of foreigners ascending the stage of the Kodak Theatre to accept Academy Awards.

The show started with Alexandra Byrne, the British costume designer, being given a statuette for her work on the costumes for Elizabeth: The Golden Age and culminated in all four of the main actor and actress awards going to Europeans.

The high profile of foreign talent was as striking as the shift towards independent studios and away from big Hollywood studios in the 1990s, led by Miramax.

It strikes me as admirable that Hollywood has demonstrated once again its openness to foreign actors and off-screen talent at a time when there are fears in other US industries about foreign competition and the outsourcing of jobs.

Hollywood has become perhaps the most open industry in its employment patterns apart from Silicon Valley, which draws software engineers from around the world, and Wall Street, where many different nationalities work in investment banks. Read more

John Gapper

I posted yesterday on Barack Obama’s use of the internet for campaigning and fund-raising. It would be remiss not also to mention John McCain’s website, which includes a fun blog from the campaign trail by his daughter Meghan and two of her friends.

Given that 71-year-old Mr McCain is getting stick from the talk show hosts at the moment for looking like a doddering old man, it is rather astute to get his daughter in on the act. Read more

John Gapper

The Journal has a piece this morning on the rise of bowling (indoor 10-pin bowling, not the outdoor sort played by Sir Francis Drake). It has become a kind of hipster retro outing for people who enjoy its fake-suburban appeal.

Coincidentally, there is an article in the New York Times pointing out that golf has been in slow decline for some time. Men are apparently finding it harder to justify spending half a day on the golf course (or a Saturday excursion, as Jack Welch used to insist upon for GE executives). Read more

John Gapper

Hollywood_sign Talking of illusory media revenues, there was some gloom at the Media and Money conference about the chances of hedge funds and other investors being able to make decent returns on equity investments in Hollywood films.

One panel was full of warning noises about the returns that will be made by hedge funds that have rushed to Hollywood in the past two or three years. They have mostly placed money into "slate deals" of up to 25 films packaged by studios for outside investors. I have written sceptically about this beforeRead more

Pumpkin_2Some things do not change. It is late October and there are pumpkins and cobwebs on stoops in Brooklyn.

On Saturday night, my New York subway carriage was filled with people in Halloween costumes, including a tall Frankenstein with a bolt through his neck who stood up and roared to general applause. Read more

Last night, I went to see Michael Clayton. I do like a thriller in which a lone figure takes on the evil force of the dark corporation and George Clooney, in the title role of the lawyer-fixer who gets an attack of conscience does not disappoint.

It made me think about why corporations and corporate executives are almost always villains in Hollywood films. There is a grand tradition of the sinister corporation reaching back to Soylent Green, a sci-fi tale about a company that makes biscuits out of people. Sorry if I have just given away the plot, but you have had 30 years to see it.

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Bladerunner I’ve always liked Blade Runner, the 1982 Ridley Scott film based on Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I remember watching with awe in a London cinema the opening pan over a futuristic Los Angeles lit by flares.

But this is ridiculous. Read more


Column on the Financial Times comment page, October 11th Read more

John Gapper

Madonna_iiMadonna’s negotiations to ditch her record label Warner Music Group in favour of Live Nation, her tour promotor is further bad news for music labels, which are suffering badly from the decline in CD sales and problems in getting people to pay for downloads.

But it is also of interest because it shows the pressures on flat-tariff pricing for all bands and singers, which is  being played out between the music labels and iTunes. Apple has resisted the push from some music labels to charge more for downloads from popular artists than its flat rate 99c (in the US) per song.

Variable pricing is alive and well for pop concerts. Indeed, the price of admission for Madonna, the Rolling Stones and other classic acts has inflated wildly in the past few years.

 Read more